President Muhammadu Buhari’s body language as to his preferred candidate for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has unsettled aspirants including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, among others.
It was gathered that the inability of the aspirants to properly deduce the direction of the president delayed the declaration of some of the aspirants including Osinbajo and Amaechi. While Osinbajo declared on Monday, Amaechi did same at the weekend.
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Starting with Tinubu, the presidential aspirants of the ruling party had sought for the blessings of the president before declaring for the race.
The lack of clarity on the president’s direction, Daily Trust reports, is fuelling agitation among the aspirants and their supporters as the deadline for the conduct of the political parties’ primaries approaches.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had issued a deadline of June 3, 2022, for political parties to conduct their primaries.
So far, eight aspirants in the ruling party have indicated interest in the president’s seat. They include; Tinubu, Osinbajo, Amaechi, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, business tycoon Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, a former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha as well as Ihechukwu Dallas Chima (IDC).
Impeccable sources around the presidency told this paper that Buhari did not object to the plans by all the aspirants to vie for the presidency but that he was keeping close to his chest his preference among the contenders.
The president had on January 5, this year during an exclusive interview with Channels TV, said he does not care who succeeds him.
His words: “2023 is not my problem, I don’t care who succeeds me, let the person come, whoever the person is.” He also declined to mention his favourite, saying if the person is named, he would be eliminated.
One of the sources said the president’s action was causing ripples among the aspirants, their supporters and critical stakeholders of the ruling party.
The source, a founding member of the APC, said, unlike the party positions, the presidential candidate of the party cannot be singlehandedly handpicked by the president.
“What I can tell you is that the scenario that brought Abdullahi Adamu, where the president handpicked him cannot be repeated now. The primaries must be conducted for the party to emerge victoriously in 2023.
“Mr President is being mindful of this fact, hence is being careful. In the build up to the 2015 general elections, even when key stakeholders knew that the party ticket was for him (Buhari), we still conducted primaries in Lagos, where he defeated Atiku, Kwankwaso, Bukola (Saraki), Okorocha and others,” the source said.
However, another source said the president seems not to be conformable with the candidatures of Osinbajo and Tinubu.
“This is my reading of him but let me tell you, the odds favour Asiwaju, power is not given, it is taken. He will pick the ticket,” the source said.
President in a tight corner
Sources said despite his open declaration that he does not care who succeeds him, the president seems to be in a tight corner.
One of them said those who supported him when he needed it most and their supporters think this is the payback time.
While those with Tinubu are saying the president owed them in view of the role played by the former Lagos governor in the victories of Buhari in 2015 and 2019, those in the camp of the vice president believed that his emergence as the running mate did the magic in the 2015 polls.
Recall that Buhari had contested thrice before emerging victory in 2015.
The vice president’s supporters are also saying that as the number two person in the administration, he should be given the right of first refusal for continuity of the relative success of the APC administration.
On their part, those in the camp of Amaechi, the former governor of Rivers State are saying that their candidate should be considered in view of the role he played as the director-general of the Buhari’s campaign organisation.
How Obasanjo picked successor
Daily Trust reports that in the build up to the 2007 general elections, former President Olusegun Obasanjo allowed all the aspirants under the then ruling party, PDP to contest.
The key aspirants at that time were sitting governors, Peter Odili (Rivers), Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi (Kaduna), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa) and Donald Duke (Cross River), among others to promote their candidatures. But before the presidential primaries of the PDP, Obasanjo threw his weight behind late Umaru Musa Yar’adua who was rounding off his tenure as governor of Katsina State even though he had not indicated interest in the race.
Soon, Obasanjo mobilised the state apparatus to ensure Yar’adua picked the party’s ticket and won the election. The late Yar’adua had during his inauguration accepted the fact the election that brought him to power was flawed.
Analysts weigh Buhari’s body language
Responding to the issue, a Political Scientist from the University of Ilorin, Dr Isiaq Atanda Abdulwaheed, described President Buhari’s disposition as “very political” and may spell doom for the party.
According to him, “What I think everyone should know for now is the fact that President Buhari has not come out to endorse anybody for the race and this is highly political and shows that he is keenly interested in whoever succeeds him.
“Now, another thing we should learn from this is that if care is not taken, Buhari’s politics may lead to some caucus breaking out of the ruling party.
“The reason is that, with the way things are going, if the VP, Yemi Osinbajo, gets the APC ticket ahead of Tinubu, which is likely now in the present circumstance, though the dynamics may change along the line, then the party will be facing a very serious issue.
“The implication is that if the opposition PDP produce a strong candidate with wide acceptability of the people, there is every tendency that they may have a free day during the poll to produce the next president in a violence-free election,” he said.
A public affairs analyst, Comrade Achike Chude warned of a possible implosion in the APC with the number of presidential aspirants that have so far emerged.
Chude, who is Deputy National President of the Joint Action Front, a civil society coalition, said the decision of the president not to endorse any candidate could be counterproductive.
According to him, the situation is still very complex as all the aspirants that have so far emerged believe the president owes them his support.
He said, “Our observation of politics in Nigeria is that when candidates going for various political positions go to traditional rulers for endorsement, they bless them and wish them well. In most cases, they do not tell them, ‘I will support you.’
“This is what we are seeing with the president. If the president has a candidate, which he has told us he has if you remember during a media chat, he said, “He has his favourite but he is not going to expose him because he doesn’t want him to be eliminated.
“Now, the debate over that statement was whether the elimination is physical elimination or political elimination. At least, he told us he has a favourite. Now that favourite might be Tinubu, he might be the Vice-President, he might be Pastor Tunde Bakare who has said clearly that he is number 16th President and Buhari is number 15, that when Buhari leaves, he will step in. We don’t know whether it is any of them or any other person that comes out from the APC.”
APC set to release timetable for primaries
Meanwhile, the APC National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, told Daily Trust in a telephone interview last night that the party was yet to fix a date for the presidential primaries.
“That information is not available for now, but in a short while, the party will release the details,” he said.
A party source told this paper that the leadership of the ruling party under Senator Abdullahi Adamu is working on the timetable.
By Ismail Mudashir, Saawua Terzungwe (Abuja), Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin) & Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos)